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4: Physical Alignment Practice #1 - Exert Yourself!

This series considers the importance of developing that intra- and inter-personal harmony by offering holistic practice considerations. They are intended as regular practices to support being in ‘right-relationship’ with yourself and with others. However, they are not prescriptions so much as offerings from which you may choose, modify or replace as you wish.


The emphasis here is on the interconnected whole that is each of us and that surrounds us. As you read through these, please take time to reflect on how you experience these interconnections to enhance your consciousness.

For an an understanding of the intent and context this blog post, please visit the blog series introduction.


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Exercise appropriately and adequately


The brain’s primary survival mantra is “conserve energy” because over the many millennia of our evolution, food (calories) was not as certain as walking over to a refrigerator for a snack. So expending energy through exercise, especially if it is something new for you, may often require a conscious effort and commitment until it becomes a habit or until your brain feels gooood due to the endorphins that are produced. If there is any great motivator for exercise, our experience of COVID-19 should be it. By engaging in a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week, we are warding off risky chronic conditions that have proven fatally vulnerable to COVID-19, including diabetes and heart disease and we are keeping our immune system active and healthy.

Like most anything, exercise can be done with a higher level of mindfulness. Observe your breathing; the rhythm, pace, depth and overall quality. Scan how you feel physically, the sensations across your muscles and joints. Lastly, your mind may wander at times to the future or past, which may be part of processing events or anxiety. Observe those thoughts, allow them to float along by you. As you enter a more ‘Alpha brain state’, you might just have an epiphany or two!


Some additional benefits of exercise:

- Feeling positive. Exercise produces endorphins and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression as well as helps to often deliver that elated ‘high’ feeling;

- Neurogenesis. Cardiovascular exercises helps to generate new hippocampal cells in the brain (“neurogenesis”) through the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This helps to stave off chronic mental illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease;

- Improves cardio conditioning. Keeping your heart in good health reduces the likelihood of developing heart disease as you continue your life journey;

- Improved immunity. Exercise helps to maintain healthy levels of immune system and blood-glucose levels (diabetes risks)

- A healthy metabolism. By exercising and increasing your heart rate and the need for energy and oxygen to sustain the increased demands of your muscles, you increase the burn rate for your metabolism, even when you’re not exercising. The higher the metabolism the easier it is to burn calories and lose weight.

Consider this:

Much is said/written about running, cycling and hiking – and those are great, if you are able to do them. Here are some additional/optional forms of exercise you can engage in:

- Yoga (flexibility, strength, focus)

- Burpees, Squats and Lunges (cardio and strength)

- Hike / jog in the forest trails

- Dancing (mental/emotional engagement and good cardio when done intensively)

- Gardening (vary use of arms and positions to engage different and core muscle groups)

- Pull ups (even negative ones, burn a lot of calories and work multiple muscle groups) - Animal movements ("animal flow", "primal movement" (a fun and challenging full body and cardio workout!) - here's a video.


The 'Rub':

Many people struggle to exercise because they don't make time for it. The fear of not completing the work or household chore that feels more 'urgent' predominates. But like with everything in life, things mean whatever meaning we choose to assign to them. If you want to prioritise physical health in your life, then assign to it whatever meaning that prioritises it over other matters; it must mean something beyond "a should".


One common motivator is to sign up for a local event. The most common are running events that cover anywhere from 5 to 50km's. Whatever distance you choose, make it a challenge worth achieving so you will be properly inspired.


If you want to engage in a new activity that doesn't involve a class (eg yoga and dance), you can usually find a coach willing to help. Examples include fitness trainers, run and triathlon coaches. There is much instruction in YouTube, but be warned that this won't take into account your individual needs and differences.

My Approach:

- While I have competed in Ironman and various other forms of endurance sport, I am now simply a trail runner. I am out the door 5 times a week in nature on the trails. I climb the hills nearby (strength), find new trails to explore (endurance), and push myself on specific trail or road segments that I consider my ‘time trials’ (speed).

- To balance out and cross-train my muscles, as well as provide some low-impact joint recovery from the impact of running, I cycle once each week. Typically on Sunday morning when traffic is at its lowest

- I generally exercise in the morning before breakfast. There’s enough glycogen in my muscles to fuel me, although I may have half a banana beforehand to signal my digestive system to expel whatever sits in my intestines.

- For upper-body training I use my yoga mat 4 times a week, doing various forms of push-ups (flat and inverted/inclined) as well as plank poses and leg lifts for abdominal strength-endurance

- For flexibility I use the same yoga mat and engage in various yoga poses (20 seconds each stretch), 7 days a week.

- When not under some form of lock-down, I run with a group that challenges me and provides social engagement stimulating not just dopamine and serotonin but also oxytocin. A triple-whammy of feel good hormones!


Conclusion:

What does a body good, also does the mind, heart, and soul. Whatever you do for exercise, until it becomes a habit, consider putting it in the calendar and get an accountability buddy.

How much is too much? Each person has their own limit level, but every body needs to recover from the stress of exercise. After all, that’s the time when we grow stronger so we can do more or go faster / farther. Most of all – exercise should feel good and bring a level of satisfaction for you.

What about your approach?

These are my personal approaches for engaging in exercise. They help me to maintain greater physical energy and alignment to be at my best, most capable and authentic, self. Every person should have their own approach. Please add to this conversation by sharing your approach to below.


References and Readings:


Ratey, John (2010), Spark!, Little, Brown



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